CBN wields big stick on rice importers over alleged fraud
FOR allegedly refusing to pay about N30 billion accrued as import duties on rice, the the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has threatened to weild the big stick on indicted importers in the next couple of weeks if they fail to comply.
A National Assembly Committee had established recently that some rice importers to the country had abused a waiver concession granted them by exceeding the quantity granted them to import into the country.
This development has led to local rice farmers and processors describing such practice as working against the Federal Government’s effort at establishing local rice sufficiency because the highly subsidized imported rice was cheaper and was making it impossible for the local rice processors who obtained loans from Nigerian banks to be able to service them, break even or for the local rice to compete favorably in terms of price with the imported variety.
Incensed by the seeming latent attitudes of the importers, a visibly angry CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, went livid demanding to know if such attitude as exceeding approved import approval could even be contemplated in the firms’ countries of origin nor the directive to make up the discovered payments be treated with levity as the firms were behaving in Nigeria.
He then threatened: “In your country can a Nigerian go there and misbehave like this by abusing the approved limit?. You are taking a very big risk and I hope you won’t wait for me to wield the big sticks on you if in the coming days you still refuse to go and make the necessary payments.”
Emefiele who gave this warning, at a meeting with major stakeholders in the rice value chain in the country including: farmers; millers and importers was reacting to an observation by the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mike Aaondoka who is now an investor in the rice processing venture that while they continue to bear the brunt of non being able to meet up with their loan commitment from banks, the favoured importers indicted were going about enjoying their loot without plans to effect a refund.
Also, at the meeting, the CBN Governor reported that the Bank had uncovered a ploy by some importers seeking forex for items which had been removed from import list to circumvent the process to obtain forex to continue to import the items, saying they would be fished out and handed severe penalties.
Consequently, he assured the stakeholders that the apex bank would never go back on the policy because it had begun to impact positively on the Nigerian economy.
He said: “Let us announce to you that just today one of my colleagues reported to me that he got a mail from one of the countries where Nigeria used to import fish complaining that our policy of banning official forex for fish importation to Nigeria was greatly hurting Nigeria and that they were ready to come and discuss with us. But let me assure you all here that this policy has come to stay and nothing will make us reverse it”.
Instead, he promised that the CBN would continue to provide more incentives including funding at concessionary rates as well as collaborate with other agencies of government to provide infrastructure and assist in buying the products as a way of encouraging more production.
Furthermore, he said: “The reason for the inclusion of rice in the exclusion list is not far-fetched. Figures available with the CBN shows that from the period January 2012 to May 2015, the country had spent over $2.1billion on the importation of this commodity. Unfortunately, this trend has resulted in huge unsold stock of paddy rice cultivated by our farmers and low operating capacities of the many integrated rice mills in Nigeria.
“You will agree with me that the country can never fully attain its true potentials by simply importing everything into the country, even commodities it can produce competitively locally. This trend must not be allowed to continue. In fact, with the policy in place, this forum has been called to explore fresh ideas, thinking out of the box and desirably coming up with a new national rice intervention framework that all stakeholders can own, identify and support religiously,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the CBN at another function, on Tuesday, as part of the Nigerian Government’s effort to establish a sustainable Electronic Governance architecture in Nigeria appealed to President Muhammudu Buhari to quickly assent to the three recently passed Financial Sector Strategy (FSS) 2020 Bills to pave the way for the establishment of the Nigerian International Financial Centre and the other ancillary requirements in line with international best practice.
The CBN Governor, Emefiele represented at the event by the apex bank Deputy Governor in charge of Operations, Suleiman Barau said the appeal had become necessary because the Bills had suffered a seven -year sojourn at the National Assembly before they were eventually passed by the last Seventh Assembly at its dying days and as such should not be treated like others that may have been rushed.
According to Emefiele: “The CBN is ready to support the E-Governance project in Nigeria as way of deepening payment system in the country as well, as help enthrone transparency and accountability. It is in this light that the CBN has been supportive of the FSS2020 project as a way of establishing an international financial centre in Abuja with all the benefits accruable from the establishment like the Dubai model.”
“ Consequently, we appeal for the President to give assent to the three FSS 2020 Bills before him to pave the way for the realization of the vision. These three Bills are unique in a sense that it took the National Assembly seven years to passed them and it was only coincidental that there were only passed at the dying days of the last Seventh Assembly. We therefore plead that Mr. President takes time out and look at the Bills and accord them his Assent because they will help to move this country forward,” he again pleaded.